Around the Web

Watch: Vladimir Nabokov’s first love was butterflies, which he collected on road trips across USA

It was these very road trips and the butterflies that inspired his acclaimed novel ‘Lolita’.


Literary masterpiece Lolita is known as Vladimir Nabokov’s most controversial work. Yet the light of his life, the fire of his loins, his sin and soul, was butterflies. “A given landscape lives twice: as a delightful wilderness in its own right, and as the haunt of a certain butterfly or moth,” he once said.

Nabokov started collecting butterflies and moths when he was a child, a passion that was propagated further when, in 1940, he moved from Russia to the United States and got a job as Curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. He spent 14 hours a day for seven years sorting and mounting butterflies, during which time he ventured out on multiple road trips to make his own collection, and even developed an evolutionary theory related to Polyommatus or “blue” butterflies in 1945 – a theory that was tested and proven right in 2011.

In the summer of 1941, on May 26, he set out on his first road trip across America on Route 66. He drove for thousands of kilometres, only stopping every night at a roadside motel, to collect butterflies. These same cheap motels and the trip later became the setting for Lolita. The beautiful video above shows the story of his first road trip, and the collection that he sent to the American Museum of National History, where he also volunteered.

Suzanne Rab Green, a curatorial assistant at AMNH who appears in the stunning video above, came across a vintage White Owl cigar box filled with specimens from Nabokov’s collections, in sealed glassine envelopes with hand-written notes by the author. She geo-referenced and traced his three-week road trip, and curated his 1941 collection. A recent book from Yale University Press, Fine Lines, also reproduces 154 of his exquisite butterfly illustrations.

Although the recognition was posthumous, about 20 kinds of butterflies are named after Nabokov’s fictional characters. If one reads Lolita carefully, the author’s obsession with butterflies springs out of the pages, for instance, in his usage of words like “nymphet”, “fragile”, and “fairy-like” to describe Lolita, who metamorphoses from an unwitting, innocent girl to a grown woman. At one point, he writes, “An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us.”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.


To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.